L’interesse di Corra per il teatro è estremamente precoce e risale addirittura alle sperimentazioni effettuate con il fratello Arnaldo fin dal 1909. Sono esperimenti narrati dallo stesso Corra ne La musica cromatica del 1912. 

L’attività teatrale vera e propria di Bruno Corra si può dividere in due periodi distinti e per certi versi antitetici, uno prettamente futurista e uno successivo al suo allontanamento dal Movimento futurista. 

Il Teatro futurista sintetico

L’avvicinamento all’esperienza teatrale futurista avviene nel 1913 quando, insieme al fratello Arnaldo e ad Emilio Settimelli, Bruno rileva una importante compagnia teatrale. Il tentativo è quello di operare una svolta innovativa e rivoluzionaria nell’organizzazione teatrale italiana con una gestione nuova, alternativa alle rappresentazioni tradizionali e principalmente “antiaffaristica”. Così racconta Corra alcuni anni dopo:

“La nostra attività teatrale futurista ha già una storia. Storia vecchia già di quattro anni iniziata da me e da Settimelli  con una compagnia di cui fecero parte la Paoli, la Mariani, la Berti-Masi, Tummiati, Luigi Almirante, Tempesti. Conducemmo allora attraverso tutta Italia una trionfante tournée di rappresentazioni suscitatrici di infinite polemiche e di morbose curiosità.”

Aggiunge Settimelli:

“Fu un enorme spreco di denaro e un contrasto continuo con impresari autori ed attori. Ma la nostra energia costruttiva ci fruttò anche questa volta una vittoria. Potemmo per mezzo della nostra compagnia rappresentare la commedia sintetica di Marinetti intitolata Elettricità.”

A.Ginna, Portrait of Bruno Corra. Circa 1916.

Corra’s interest in theatre is extremely precocious and even dates back as early as 1909, with experiments carried out alomgside his brother Arnaldo. These experiments are narrated by Corra himself in La musica cromatica of 1912.

Bruno Corra’s actual theatrical activity can be divided into two distinct and in some ways antithetical periods, one purely futurist and the second following his departure from the Futurist Movement.

The Synthetic Futurist Theatre

The contact with the Futurist theatre experience took place in 1913 when, together with his brother Arnaldo and Emilio Settimelli, Bruno took over an important theatre company. The attempt was to make an innovative and revolutionary change in the organisation of the Italian theatre with new management to replace the traditional performances and with a focus on the ‘anti-business’. Corra recounts a few years later:

“Our futurist theatre activity already has a history. A history already four years old, begun by Settimelli and myself with a cast that included Paoli, Mariani, Berti-Masi, Tummiati, Luigi Almirante and Tempesti. We then conducted a triumphant tour of performances throughout Italy, arousing endless controversy and morbid curiosity”.

Settimelli adds:

“It was an enormous waste of money and a continuous conflict with impresarios, authors and actors. But, once again, our constructive energy earned us a victory. Our company was able to perform Marinetti’s synthetic comedy entitled Electricity.”

The short tour of the ‘Dramatic Company’, which began on 13 September 1913 at the Politeama Garibaldi in Palermo, ended in January 1914 in Milan and was a real failure from a financial standpoint. It was fundamental, however, for the birth of the Synthetic Futurist Theatre and the publication of the Manifesto of the Synthetic Futurist Theatre in 1915, signed by Marinetti, Settimelli and Corra. In this work, they theorised and experimented with a theatre that was completely different from the traditional performances, for example, it was no longer divided into acts, with predictable scenes and predictable emotions. The new performances must embrace the entire tumult of real life, from the life imagined, dreamed and remembered to the life in the now. The intention of Corra, Settimelli and Marinetti is therefore to combat the model of the traditional D’Annunzio theatre and the late-Verdian inspiration, seeking to create a dynamic, synthetic, alogical and atechnical theatre that rejects realism. Synthetic Futurist theatre has a specific bellicist and nationalist ideological orientation, stigmatises and desecrates typical bourgeois behaviour and traditional literary models.

It becomes a privileged place for the battle against the “benpensanti” (well thought) and the bourgeoisie, as artistic creation is brutally brought into contact with the audience and the audience itself, no longer an inert spectator, becomes an integral part of the performance and subjected to continuous provocation. The main rule is to astonish.

The theatrical experience of 1913 truly represents a turning point for the Futurist Movement. Besides, thanks to their shared passion for theatre, a strong bond was created between Marinetti and Corra and Settimelli who became the new referents of Florentine Futurism, bringing new ideas and enriching the already complex artistic panorama of the Movement with new stimuli.

In the following years, Corra produced several synthetic comedies later collected in two small volumes entitled Teatro futurista sintetico (Synthetic Futurist Theatre), some published in magazines and almost all staged during Futurist shows. He also wrote numerous critical essays on the subject in the pages of ‘L’Italia futurista’. We may recall the following comedies he wrote with his brother Ginna; La canaglia and Becco + becco = happiness with Settimelli, Alternazioni di carattere and Le mani with Marinetti.

Corra showed a particular interest in the enhancement of theatrical forms traditionally considered of lesser importance, such as Varietà, Music Hall and Café Chantantant, and in the singular characters that animated these shows: macchiettisti, transformists, brilliant interpreters of a new Italian comedy. First and foremost was the great Petrolini, capable of ‘pure futurist humour’, who often used futurist syntheses for his shows.

In 1924, with his departure from the Futurist Movement, Corra also moved away from theatrical experimentalism. In 1938, with Marinetti he wrote the manifesto Contro il teatro morto. Against analytical romance. Contro il negroismo musicale (Against musical negroism), but it is a piece of writing that is far removed from Futurism in terms of purpose and narrative outcomes and is aimed at criticising the ‘passatist’ and foreign-oriented attitude that Italian culture, and theatre in particular, was adopting in those years.

Comedies and Adaptations

Around 1935, after a few years of silence, Corra’s second theatre season began. His plays from this period are almost all written together with Giuseppe Achille and recover the structures and contents of traditional theatre, enjoying great success with hundreds of performances attracting audiences in Italy and abroad. 

Two different forms of narrative can be identified in these comedies: on the one hand, the ‘giallo’ style comedies, in which exoticism predominated, such as Traversata nera and Le torri del diavolo, from 1935; on the other hand, the bourgeois comedies that offered a cross-section of pre-war Italian society, such as Inventiamo l’amore and Addio a tutto questo, Le donne sono così. They are often theatrical adaptations of novels, sometimes faithful, sometimes with different plots and characters mixed in. Often, these comedies with a bourgeois theme outline aspects of Italian society without addressing its social issues. We can thus liken them to the so-called ‘white telephone’ cinema, and it was not for nothing that films were made from a number of these comedies.

Corra argues that comedy must create a dry, lively dialogue, which fulfils the disclosure of information with respect to the stage action. It is also necessary to comply with the schedules, imposing the rule that a play cannot last for more than three hours. The real driving force of the action must be the protagonist, flanked by a limited number of characters, considering the size of each company.

These are the essential characteristics of the new theatre that Corra set out to create and would write about in the years to follow in How to Become a Successful Writer in 1956.

However, he became increasingly aware of how cinema was slowly supplanting the spread of theatre, although, thanks to the right balance of cunningness and spontaneity, to Corra, theatre would always be able to maintain that full aspect of fascination and appeal.

In the 1940s, wartime events definitively removed Corra from the theatrical scene, sanctioning the artist’s initial and gradual departure from his work as a writer and following with his departure from the entire Italian cultural and artistic scene.

Text by Lavinia Russo, supervision by Lucia Collarile.